THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- The Tea Party's physical presence has shrunk since it won the 2010 elections. At a "hold the line" rally in 2011, put on to drum up opposition to a debt limit hike, only 50 or so Tea Partiers showed up outside of Congress; they were outnumbered by the press. Here in Florida, at a Saturday rally put on in the Tea Party Express, the movement could only produce 50 warm bodies, around lunchtime, in the Republican-friendly suburb of Winter Park.
Today, though, Newt Gingrich was in The Villages. If you needed to design a last redoubt of the Tea Party voter, a place to collect the older, whiter conservatives who make up the movement, you could do no better than a planned community of at least 75,000 people, with a central census-designated zone of around 8,000, where people under 19 can only stay with permission for 30 days. Gingrich pulled more than 1500 people over to the Sumter Park section of the complex. Parking began outside of a Barnes and Noble. It spilled across the street, with souped-up golf carts sharing space with SUVs, fighting for small patches of grass. Representatives of the Tri-County Tea Party passed out brochures, advertising meetings of 2000 people, showing the markings that previous conservative ambassadors had put on them.
Gingrich, taking a stage with his wife beside him, spoke for 27 minutes. The text was a splice-up of Tea Party talk and attacks on Mitt Romney -- different flavors of the same soup.
"I am not running to make the Wall Street elite and the Washington elite happy," said Gingrich. "I am running to change both groups on behalf of the American people!"
Gingrich needed the audience's help, because the Republican establishment was afraid of him, and (implictly) doing damage. He'd gone to the space coast, talked about a serious space plan, and gotten mocked. "How many of you remember that moment in 1968 when America put a man on the moon?" Most hands went up; the few that didn't belonged to visitors, not Villagers. "The truth is we have been served badly, the American people, by the establishment of this country in both parties. Let's be clear about it. In both parties! It's time someone stood up for hard-working, tax-paying Americans and said, enough! And if that makes the old order uncomfortable, my answer is: Good."
Listeners got to hear a detailed pre-history of the Gingrich administration, an hour-by-hour countdown of what he'd do on his first day in office. "My very first action would be to sign an executive order abolishing all the White House czars," he said. He would sign a repeal of "Obamacare," and nuke "40 percent of [Obama's] government" by the time the defeated ex-president landed in Chicago. He would do it, and Mitt Romney -- never named -- wouldn't do it.
"I'm delighted that tomorrow Michael Reagan will be campaigning with me," said Gingrich, "which should tell you how false the ads were earlier this week by Romney, to suggest that I wasn't a Reagan Republican. Nancy Reagan said in 1995, 'Just as Barry passed the torch to Ronnie, Ronnie passed the torch to Newt.' And Michael will be here to prove tomorrow, to every doubting person, I am in fact the legitimate heir of the Reagan movement. Not some liberal from Massachusetts!"
Up to now, Gingrich had been calling Romney a "Massachusetts moderate." The "liberal" tag was new; it was exactly what the Tea Party was longing for.